The Dancing Puritan

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Empty Pursuit and the Joyful Life



The floodgates are open. The water is pouring in. Confusion and despair abound. Some Christians seem to be throwing their hands up in despair. Each day seems to bring new accounts of a society gone mad. We read of the abortion "doctor" whose philosophy boils down to the chilling statement, "If an abortion is purchased a dead baby should be delivered." We have read recently of so called botched abortions where the baby is born alive and viable and yet brutally killed and his parts discarded (or stored).

Who would have imagined the rapid erosion in our culture of traditional/biblical marriage? Folks who "come out of the closet" are counted as heroes and receive a phone call from the President. People who have been married to the same partner for fifty years are seen as out-of touch-dinosaurs.

With debt and unemployment spiraling out of control and leaders calling "good evil and evil good" it is easy to despair of life.

And yet the Bible tells us of the emptiness of pursuing things under the sun. They are all fleeting, transitory and temporary. Like a gust of wind they arrive with promise only to be gone in a moment.

And yet, like Solomon once did, we try to find our meaning by pursuing pleasure, laughter, wine and building projects including gardens and parks, homes and pools. We look for meaning in vacations, possessions, money, music and women. We vainly imagine that if we could have our way with as many beautiful women (or men) as we wanted that life would really be exciting. Solomon thought the same thing (Ecclesiastes 2:1-8). He withheld no pleasure from himself.  He sought a life of pleasure, enjoyed plenty of money to fund his pleasures, built beautiful places and had his pick of beautiful women.

He came to the point where he hated life and work and fell into deep despair (2:17-23). His nights were sleepless. His calculations about the joyful life were all wrong.

But even before his repentance was complete he had an awakening. There is nothing better for a person that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment (24-25).

Where have we (our nation) turned to find meaning in a seemingly meaningless existence?  We have looked to pleasure and have gone after it with a gusto. We have tried to dry our tears and cheer our hearts with alcohol. We build houses that rival the ones on television. Those houses sit on property surrounded by gardens and parks. We have taken our fill of sex both real and virtual. We have looked for meaning at the local bar, by downloading our I-Pods with thousands of songs and through giving ourselves to sports. We have traveled the world, bought nice things, kept nothing from our children and worked 80 hour weeks. Some have awakened to wonder, "Is this all there is?" They have come to Solomon's state--confused, empty and hating life.  Some commit suicide. There must be more.

There is!  But the more is not in more trips, more money, more sex, more music, more stuff--the more is in the capacity to enjoy all that God has granted to us.

God is the creator of all things.  God has created all things for his glory. God has created all things for the enjoyment of his people.  If ...apart from him... no one can eat or have enjoyment.  Then through him there is a way to eat, drink, dance, work, take vacations, build homes and do any biblical and lawful thing--to the glory of God and with full enjoyment.

How?

1.  Any created thing cannot be properly enjoyed if it holds our heart.  Here is the wonderful truth. Only when God is worshipped as he ought to be can we love and enjoy as we should. But when that formula is reversed then everything leads to emptiness.

2.  All created things can be fully enjoyed when our hearts belong to God. We must see gifts as from the hand of God (2:24). We must worship and serve the giver and not the gifts. Therefore we seek to honor God in our eating, drinking, building and in physical intimacy with one person that we are in covenant relationship with.

3.  Have an honest assessment of life.  Life is not all about birth, planting, building, laughing, dancing and world-peace Life also involves death, weeping, mourning and war. And when we build, laugh, dance and have times of great peace--those things are not ends in themselves (3:1ff).

4.  Live life to the fullest but not as if now constitutes your best life. God has made ...everything beautiful in its time (3:11). He has put eternity in man's heart...(11).  Solomon perceives, ...that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil-this is God's gift to man (12-13). The worldly hedonist pursues joy, eating, drinking and pleasure as an end. The joyful Christian receives gifts as from God and enjoys those gifts as an act of worship to God.

5.  Recognize the opportunities and limitations of good gifts.  Solomon, near the end of his life, looks back and sees the vanity of his earlier pursuits. Now that he has been awakened to the goodness of a gift-giving God he says, Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun...(9).  Take advantage of opportunities, enjoy good gifts but remember you are going to die (10). Remember not only your birthday--but remember that you are fast approaching the day of death.

6.  Have a sober perspective on life. Solomon tells the young man to rejoice and be cheered but to remember that he one day has to face God (11:9). He then helps the young man to keep perspective.  Even though he is young he is aging and the aging process will be difficult (12:1-8). Enjoy your life but remember that you are getting older and difficulty is just around the corner. Remember that you are going to die. Remember that you have to give an account to God for the way you have lived your life.

If you are a Christian you can serve with joy only because you know that ...God has already approved what you do (9:7). But having the approval of God in our justification is designed to motivate us in our sanctification. We are called to live wise and godly lives--with an eye towards growing older, dying and facing God.

Solomon's summary statement is simply, Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.  For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.

So what do we do as we live in a culture that seems hell-bent on destroying itself in the pursuit of pleasure, comfort and the avoidance of anything uncomfortable? We apply the six principles above and we live with joy, purpose and as bright lights in a dark world. We work prayerful that God will bring revival and awakening to our land. That many will wake up and see the vanity of it all and find their hope in Christ.